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Grading the Boston College Defense vs. Pitt

Boston College battled with Pitt last night, escaping with a 31-30 win. The difference maker being a missed extra point by Panthers kicker Alex Kessman in overtime. We’ve broken the game down in many ways, and now it’s time to hand out grades, beginning with the defense.

(Because of COVID-19 this evaluation was done using the network TV feed. There certainly were moments the video missed. We did the best we could to evaluate what was visible. Also for grading: A: Great Game, B:Good Game, C: Average Game D: Below Average F: Poor Game))

Coaching: A-. Tem Lukabu has been drawing up strong defensive schemes all year, and this week was no exception. Kenny Pickett was able to make some big plays, but BC dominated the Pitt rushing attack, holding the Panthers to 101 yards. When Pickett injured his ankle, the defense adjusted throwing the house at him every chance they could. 

Luc Bequette: B- Middle of the defense had a good game, Bequette also had a pass break up when he got his hands up on a pass attempt. It’s been a theme though, other than Marcus Valdez we aren’t seeing much in terms of pass rush from the defensive line. 

Chibueze Onwuka: B. Gets a higher grade because he made a play that saved the game for the Eagles. Pitt had the ball on their own one yard line, and Vincent Davis saw a hole, luckily Onwuka stopped him. Good solid run defense, not much of a factor on the pass rush. 

Max Roberts: A-. Three games, three potentially game changing hits. When he gets going he gives BC a pass rush unlike anyone else on the roster. Have to imagine he is used only in certain packages right now, but if his role grows he could be a bigger factor moving forward.

Brandon Barlow: B+. Has to be the most improved defensive lineman on the team. A sub package defensive end, he has done a really nice job so far this season. Five tackles on Saturday. 

Max Richardson: A. Just another crisp game by the linebacker, had what should have been the game ending sack. Three tackles for loss.

Isaiah McDuffie: C+ Another game with some positive plays and some negatives. On the touchdown from Israel Abanikanda, he looked to be the guy who should have at least slow him down. He had another personal foul, his second in two weeks. 

Elijah Jones: D+. When grading a player sometimes it’s the circumstances that dictate the grade not the actual play. That is the case for Jones. He got called for two questionable pass interference calls, but I think a lot of that has to do with the physical “violent” way the secondary plays. Not a great game for the corner, but I think he could easily bounce back.

Brandon Sebastian: A. Was about to give him an A+, the highest grade, when I looked back over my notes and realized he missed an easy INT.

Boston College 31 Pitt 30

It was another thrilling win, as Boston College survived Pitt in overtime 31-30. Here are some observations on the Eagles offense. 

* Phil Jurkovec had a good game, especially given the pressure he was facing. Still holds on to the ball just a little too long, and had that strip in the red zone. But other than that threw for 358 yards against a very good Pitt defense. As good as he has looked (he is the first BC quarterback to throw for 300 yards in 3 of 4 first starts), he has tons of room to improve. That should be a very exciting thought for BC fans. 

* Zay Flowers, offensive MVP of the game. Had three touchdowns, but it could have been four if he hadn’t dropped a wide open TD in the end zone. But can’t hate on that, still an incredible game for the sophomore who should be getting his 2nd ACC Wide Receiver of the Week award. 

* The offensive line had a rough game. They allowed five sacks, and BC’s rushing attack averaged 2.5 yards per game (minus Jurkovec’s stats). This was not a pretty game in terms of pass blocking. Pitt’s pass rush was everything as advertised. The BC front five struggled in that second half

* BC really struggled when Pitt started on sitting on Jurkovec rolling out. This will be one of those things that the Eagles will need to build upon as the year progresses. 

* Not a big fan of Frank Cignetti’s play calling in the second half. I understand what he was going for, he wanted to try and neutralize the Pitt pass rush, but there had to be a play action in there somewhere. It became very predictable: run, run, pass punt. When the run wasn’t happening, it left Jurkovec in a very precarious position where Pitt could tee off knowing the pass was coming. Hopefully this was just a blip in play calling. 

* BC got VERY lucky that the two fumbles were called down. Watching the replay, Patrick Garwo/David Bailey looked down, but the Eagles have to be much more careful with the ball

* Kind of crazy that we may consider that Hunter Long had a “quiet game” today. Finished the day with six catches for 93 yards, and that was with the Pitt defense focused on him all day

* CJ Lewis continues to be a very solid producer for the Eagles. Wasn’t a perfect day though for the wide receiver as he had a drop later in the game. Think he is doing a fine job filling in for Kobay White at the X receiver slot. 

* Cleaner games in terms of penalties, only two called on the offense. 

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Boston College Eagles vs. Pitt Panthers: Three Key Matchups

Rushing Attack vs the Pitt Defense

Its no secret that the Eagles have struggled this season to get their rushing attack going this season. After having one of the leading attacks in the country last year, Frank Cignetti Jr. has opted for a more balanced attack. With the run game sputtering it has left the OC with the reality of putting the offense’s success on the shoulder of sophomore Quarterback Phil Jurkovec. Although the numbers prove that is has been a success, going up against a top defense in Pitt, the Eagles will need a resurgence from their once prominent ground game.

The unit as a whole has been scrutinized and questioned with the offensive line struggling to create holes for the backs. With 4 returning starters on the line from last season it is a concern but one that can most certainly grow with the veteran leadership in the trenches.

Getting the junior running back David Bailey going is going to be key. Coming into the contest averaging 3.4 YPC isn’t strong, and needs to imporve. Pitt boasts what has been argued as the best defensive front in the country, so they are equally threatening on the pass rush as they are on their run defense, so a balanced attack is going to be key for the Eagles to move the football on Saturday.

Head Coach Jeff Hafley commenting on David Bailey, “I know we threw the ball about 90 times last week, but there’s going to be a time when he’s going to get it 30 times and we’re going to need him.”

Secondary vs. Kenny Pickett

The Eagles defense continues to show remarkable improvement both over 2019 and as the season progresses. With their biggest test to date, BC responded last week against Sam Howell with an interception and and forced fumble. But more notably they made second half adjustments that left the UNC Tar Heels quarterback looking uncomfortable in crucial situations.

This week brings another challenge as Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett who is an established veteran in the conference. The senior has looked fantastic this season with over 1,100 yards passing a 6/2 TD/INT rate and a 63% completion rate. The Eagles secondary which has taken a massive step forward with what could be attributed to “The Hafley Effect” will need to continue to make progress in order to slow Pickett down. The defensive unit as a whole is last in the ACC on 3rd down stops. That will need to improve Saturday.

Jaelen Gill vs. Pitt’s Secondary

With the exception of tight end Hunter Long in all three of the Eagle’s games thus far, it has been different receivers who have stepped up in the passing game. With Zay Flower’s explosion against Duke and week 1 and CJ Lewis’s clutch catches in week 3, the question posed for this upcoming matchup is going to be who is next on the docket?

Transfer Jaelen Gill has all the makings to continue to grow as a contributor

Five Questions Boston College Has to Answer to Defeat Pitt

Boston College concludes their three game homestand on Saturday against the Pitt Panthers. Led by quarterback Kenny Pickett and a vicious defense, the Panthers have rolled to a 3-1 start. But what does Boston College have to do to get back into the win column? Let’s explore.

Can the Eagles establish any sort of run?

Boston College is 4th from the bottom in the country in rushing yards this year (70.33 ypg). It seems like every game the offense veers away from the rushing attack as soon as the team falls behind. Jeff Hafley has said that running back David Bailey’s role is going to increase, but wouldn’t say when. It seems like Pitt would be a perfect game to do it. Pitt’s pass rush is relentless, but honestly so is their rush defense. As we saw last year however, their front can be beat up in the trenches, AJ Dillon ran for 178 yards against them last season. Maybe it would just make sense to just do some simple runs with man to man blocking up front, get those four yards a rush which will hopefully open things up for the passing attack.

Can BC stop taking points off the board?

It has been an epidemic for the Eagles, as they have had touchdowns called back in each of the first three games. Hafley has stressed that the team needs to clean up the mental mistakes. That is going to be crucial against a team that is stingy in the red zone, only 42.86% of trips in the red zone end up in touchdowns against the Panthers. BC can ill afford to have touchdowns taken away due to mistakes, and will need to have a cleaner game than the previous three. 

Can the Eagles defense contain Kenny Pickett?

Kenny Pickett is a good quarterback, he may not be at the same level as Sam Howell, but he is experienced, playing in 30 games so far at the collegiate level. He is also certainly good enough to cause matchup problems on defense. He’s multifaceted in how he can beat you, having rushed for four touchdowns already this season, but has a nice arm too throwing for 1123 yards. BC had mixed success last weekend against Howell, can they improve upon that and slow Pickett down? Don’t let him escape the pocket, and finish tackles. That will be a key. 

How will the offensive line look against the best defense they have faced?

Expectations for the offensive line have certainly scaled back since the beginning of the season. They haven’t played up to the vaunted expectations many (myself included) put upon them. However, they haven’t played poorly–more like above average to good. The run blocking hasn’t really been there, but for the most part, Jurkovec has had time in the pocket. This weekend the Panthers, who have 19 sacks on the season will give them the biggest test. BC can not afford to have blown assignments, or holding penalties. They need